Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Coming soon: advanced LaTeX for grants

Ok, so as usual, people seem to assume I'm stupid, but actually what I'm trying to do is pretty advanced.

Am learning the ins and outs of floatflt vs. wrapfig. Suffice it to say, I am kind of astounded there isn't something already out there that explains how to handle a document with lots of figures and subsections. At the moment, our workaround is to make the subsections in boldface, e.g. \bf rather than \subsection, because that tricks the figure management packages into letting you insert figures where you would otherwise get errors, or worse, no figure inserted at all...

Gotta say, this has been pretty frustrating, but I feel like I'm learning a lot, and not just about LaTeX. I'm finding that my long-standing fears of programming mostly stem from my need for explicit, literal instructions and precise definitions for everything. Which is to say, calling things by their correct names, with the correct syntax... but I also tend to get lost when there are too many finer points. For example, WHY??? did the person who wrote wrapfig decide that curly brackets are better than square ones, when floatflt uses square brackets FOR THE EXACT SAME OPTION?? e.g:





I am still not accustomed enough to looking at squinched up little piles of brackets to immediately spot the differences there. And the error messages I'm getting are not polite enough to just say, "Uh, excuse me, m'am? You used the wrong bracket thar."


Anyway it's bringing back all kinds of memories of taking the one or two programming courses I managed to survive in school, and why I didn't go further with programming... I think it mostly comes back to total lack of communication skills.

So that is my theory for the day: why there aren't more women in computer science = TOTAL LACK OF COMMUNICATION SKILLS on the part of the people writing computer science textbooks and teaching classes. Now, I'm sure there must be somebody out there who could teach me tons of programming languages in no time flat, but I doubt there are very many. If one of them could please teleport to my office RIGHT NOW, that would be great.



At 6:29 PM, Blogger Adam Solomon said...

If I may make a suggestion....there may be a package more convenient for your topic, but if not, then a lot of what you want to do can be handled very easily by using the AASTeX package. Again, it's not for your field (it's used for astronomy/astrophysics papers), but it makes figures, subsections, etc., extremely simple.

If you need a start using that I'd be more than happy to help!

At 8:00 PM, Blogger Ranger of the West said...

LaTeX - why just write a grant when you can compile it too?

At 11:01 AM, Blogger Jane said...

OK, as a computer scientist, I feel the need to represent here. :) I do agree that part of the problem w/ teaching computer science is lack of communication---or people that have no business writing textbooks or teaching intro courses doing such activities. But I think there are a lot of really smart people working to fix this--Georgia Tech and Carnegie Mellon have done some really interesting and innovative things in their intro courses, and we're always trying things at my school. Some, admittedly, work better than others. But I think the bigger problem is that there are so many rules, so many inconsistencies (like the examples you cited), and it can be really tricky to figure out what to show the students and what parts of the language to effectively "hide" from the students. And no matter what you do, someone's gonna be unhappy.

I hated my first programming class and swore I'd never do it took the right teacher and a boatload of persistence to finally get to the point where I actually understood and enjoyed programming. So I feel your pain!

Good luck with the LaTeX!

At 3:17 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

thanks for the AAS suggestions, but my sources tell me it's not any more advanced than what we're already using. our requirements for figures are more advanced, actually, than in most fields.

and thanks jane, that's really encouraging! maybe i'll learn programming someday... there's hope for me yet!

At 1:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I don't know if they just screwed up in this case, but I would guess that the answer to your question is that floatflt has some default for this option and wrapfig demands that you tell it the alignment?

Because in theory [] should be for optional arguments.

And I think the only way to learn programming is by example. If someone has never programmed before, an example program is much more informative than instructions! The actual methods of programming are varied and awkward to turn into instructions. This is also why it's often taught badly, I think. A set of simple examples and a reference book are definitely best, for me.

So.. the easy way to do the float stuff is to get someone else's latex source who used it, and look at that!


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